Names Are Not Innocent

I have a “white” name. When it is put on an application without any other background information, many people would assume that I am white. I am not white. My white name does not define me just as culturally sounding names do not define anyone else. When you stereotype someone because of their name from whatever perspective — class, race, or sex included — you are ending any opportunity to get to know that person further because you have already decided who they are for yourself. People with names that are not of the “norm” face damaging consequences.

In September, the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed commented on a job seeker who dropped one letter from his name while applying for jobs (sending between 50 and 100 a day), and the responses rushed to him. He went from José Zamora to Joe Zamora. He did not change any of the details on the résumé, and his experience remained the same. However, with that name change, he effectively whitewashed himself.

Studies have shown that despite the online efforts made by digital job applications, it is exactly the opposite. Also, employers subconsciously — sometimes consciously — discriminate against names that sound black or Latino or have extensive affiliations with black or Latino companies and organizations. You’ve got to “calm down the blackness” as one person the New York Times quoted said.

“Calming down the blackness” means denying who you are, what you are, and where you came from – something that only people of color have to do. No one else has to constantly prove their worth or downplay parts of who they are. In a way, this is similar to the scene in Roots where slave Kunta Kinte is being whipped repeatedly until he said that his name was Toby – the name that his master had picked out for him.

Subconsciously or not, there is no excuse in judging someone by their name. Names are not all-encompassing to a person; they are the beginning. People have feelings. Make the conscious decision to get to know them because names do not tell you everything.

Published by

Ashley Elizabeth

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, Mineral Lit, Sante Fe Writer Project, Knights Library, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. In June 2020, Ashley was the featured writer at Drunk Monkeys. She is also the author of the chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend (Nightingale & Sparrow). When Ashley isn't serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cat. Once COVID is over, they plan on going on a foodie road trip.

5 thoughts on “Names Are Not Innocent”

  1. People of color are not the only people who have to constantly downplay parts of who they are. LGBT people have to do the same, regardless of their skin color. There may be other groups who feel the need to do similar. Just because “your group” (in parantheses because I don’t really think in those terms) is struggling in this way or that way doesn’t mean you’re the only group that is. Did you ASK people from other groups if they go through the same things you describe, or just ASSUME we don’t?

    1. Hello, I am aware that LGBTQ* people have to do the same, as I am a member of that community as well. The piece was focused on names and first glances at them. There is no stereotypical “gay” name, hence why I did not include that. I know that other people/other groups may go through similar things; I don’t assume that my experiences are the only experiences at all. Also, if you look at the links included, they are all focused on other persons of color. I definitely have to knock off my gay self during interviews and things of that nature, but upon meeting me, no one would know I was in that community. Does this help clear things up for you?

      1. I wondered if there not exactly being a stereotypical “gay” name was your reason for leaving not mentioning LGBT people, but since all you said was that no one else except people of color having to downplay “parts of who they are” and didn’t specifically limit it to names, I wasn’t sure. But yes, that does make things more clear for me, thanks.
        I will say, I have known white people who live in predominantly black areas who have felt like their names are “too white” when applying for certain jobs. Some white people also feel that Affirmative Action will sometimes keep them from getting a job if employers can tell they’re white from anything about them. Of course, the example of “Jose” getting more interviews when he changed his name to “Joe” proves there is still a need for AA or a similar program, but it does sometimes end up inadvertently punishing white people who are not racist, and causes many white people not to want to identify their race.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s